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OPC Themes for 2019

Thematic collections of photographs can help keep conversations about the artwork “on topic.” The collection may then elicit different impressions, identifications of technique, and artistic assessments from each viewer of each photograph. Sharing those impressions, techniques and assessments can be a first step toward improving our technical and artistic skills, as well as helping develop the “art of seeing,” as Freeman Patterson would say.

 

January            Hands. The fun of photography is the ability to tell a story through pictures. The ability to freeze time and capture moments, memories, and images that express emotion and feeling. Though we are often drawn to the eyes of the subject, there is nothing more powerful than the stories that can be told by a person’s hands.

                         As humans we use our hands to talk, weave stories with our hands through pencil and paper, we cry into our hands, use them to show love, and affection, to climb mountains, and to stifle laughter. What more could you ask for when capturing a subject for a photo then one full of chapters ready to share?

February          See Red. We don’t know if Cupid really loves red, but since we’re ambushed with the color in February in celebration of Valentine’s Day, we ought to photograph it. Red is famously one of the most difficult colors to capture authentically on film, especially in natural lighting.

                         Red symbolizes passion, fire, love and anger. In Eastern cultures, it connotes luck and prosperity. Red occurs throughout nature, from dying stars to dying leaves, and humans have evoked its powers for everything from politics to sports.

March               Disappearing Technologies. An increasing number of millennials have never used a landline, worn an analog wristwatch, or mailed a handwritten letter. They do not learn art and design technologies that previous generations took for granted. The scope of digital technology has made many things obsolete, from traditional black-and-white film to the tape cassette, but they have not disappeared completely. In the hands of artists and designers, a bygone technology can take on a new significance. What’s your disappearing technology?

April                 Self-Portrait. It is surprising how many photographers are reluctant to turn the cameras on themselves, but some of the world’s most famous photographers have done just that. Using yourself as your model doesn’t necessarily mean a seated portrait, but is more an excuse to experiment with poses, costumes, and artistry with the only model you’ll ever have who won’t complain. It helps to use a tripod and shutter release, rather than limiting yourself by trying to photograph with the camera at arm’s length. You decide how you want to show yourself to the world!

May                   Emotion. One thing that makes a great photo is its ability to convey emotion and thus connect with the viewer. Happiness and joy, sorrow and despair, these are some of the easier emotions as they are universally felt, at one time or another, by everyone.

                         Emotion, or a feeling, is what can bring a snapshot out of obscurity and make it shine. Think of a normal sunset picture from the shores of Hawaii with just the horizon and a bright orange sun dipping low. It’s beautiful for sure and even better when viewed in person. Now pull the zoom back to a wider angle and show a couple in silhouette, sitting on lounge chairs facing the waves and reaching to each other to hold hands. Different people will connect with each photo in different ways, or maybe not at all. Those in a romantic mood will enjoy the photo of the couple and those looking for calm without distraction may enjoy the singular sunset.

June                  Black and White. One of the most common reasons people want to make black and white photos today is because it lends a certain timeless quality to the images. While the “when” and “why” are related, photographing in color and then wondering whether to convert the image employs a very different mindset from setting out and seeing the world in black and white, and then working within those confines. Parameters of a world without color forces you to see things differently, to stretch and work out your photographic eye muscles, and that in turn pushes you creatively.

                         Focus on composition and lighting, the two strongest elements of a black and white photograph. These are important because black and white composition does away with the distraction of color. Suddenly elements within the frame can relate in a way that might otherwise have been throw off because of jarring color.

July                   Abstracts. Abstraction, in general, is a process by which some information is carefully eliminated leaving the parts that deemphasize the object-photograph relationship. For instance, get a sheet of paper and a pen, put your hand with fingers slightly separated, and draw an outline of your hand.

                         You now have just the outline information, the shape of your hand, by eliminating the skin texture, color, depth, form, etc. It has no fingerprints! This is how abstraction in general works, we leave some information behind and keep the parts we want to include in the photograph. The outline you have just drawn is “just a hand” not necessarily your hand, breaking the linkage between the subject and the image drawn.

August             No Meeting Scheduled.

September       Photograph a Stranger. It doesn’t matter what you say to people, the most important aspect of approaching people to photograph tem is being genuine, warm, friendly and calm. People will read your body language before you open your mouth, so if you come off as tense they will probably think you are shifty. If you are not smiling, people are going to think you’re unfriendly. Of course being a bit nervous is natural. It’s totally normal. But the more you practice, the calmer you’ll become. Then you’ll settle into yourself more, get a little pattern going and it’ll be much easier. It doesn’t matter much what you say, how you say it, or what you are working on, how people react to you is almost 100% because of your body language and the feelings you have when you approach them.

                         You must be quick and be prepared. Don’t fumble with removing a lens cap, changing settings on the camera or putting down a camera bag. Remember, the best street photographers spend the majority of time immersed in society, seeking out their subject, and so should you.

October            Still Life. When most of us think of a still life photo, we generally think of a created still life where we build the entire composition–from choosing the most photogenic bowl, to what fruit to use, to how to position and light all the other elements.

                         When you walk your favorite trail and run across a fallen leaf sitting on a particularly attractive rock, that’s a still life, too. If you photograph it as is, without making any adjustments, it’s a found still life.

                         When photographing a still life subject, you are creating an image rather than capturing a moment. You are constructing your photograph; from background, to subject, to lighting. With the subject matter being inanimate objects, their tendency to stay very still allows you to take time to refine your lighting, and experiment with your composition. It’s a very pleasant way to photograph, and you don’t need any fancy gear. It’s also a great way to learn about lighting and composition, the key elements to any photographic style.

November        Play with Liquids. When you are photographing a mundane object, you don’t need to worry about it growing tired of posing, so have fun with this project and take as much time as you need. Try different angles, lie on the ground, climb up on something, do whatever it takes to snap pictures that transform ordinary into extraordinary. For more inspiration, pay attention to other photographers when you are out at a popular attraction and observe their positions. Try mimicking their positions to see what they are seeing because even if you look odd, the great photographs you take are worth it.

December        Things Neatly Organized, or “Knolling Photography.”“Knolling photography” (Google it to find out more) involves photographing objects grouped together and arranged neatly, either parallel or at right angles to one another. The look of the resulting image can be quite clean and clinical – as opposed to a jumble of items, everything is neatly laid out.

                         The technique is very useful whenever you want to photograph a group of items, with each item clearly identifiable. Knolling is often used for sharing an image of the contents of a bag. But, of course, it can be used for other things too, such as the ingredients for a meal, clothes that form an outfit, a small book collection, or just a collection of related items you think would work well for a knolling photo.

                         Before you start laying your items out, think about the background you will lay them out on. You want something that is quite plain and does not distract from the items. Importantly, it also needs to be large enough for you to fit all the items on in a neat arrangement. Here is an example.

                         Knolling can be very useful to obtain a pleasing image when photographing a group of items that could otherwise be a bit boring. Why not give it a try, photographing the contents of your handbag, your camera bag, or the ingredients for a home-cooked dinner?

 

 


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